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First Read's Morning Clips

<p>A roundup of the day’s most important political stories</p>

OBAMA AGENDA: Health-care enrollment back on track

“More than 1.1 million people signed up for health insurance coverage through state and federal exchanges in January, including a rising number of young, healthy enrollees, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday,” USA Today writes. “That's 3.3 million now covered by private plans, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. While enrollment has grown, it is still short of the 4.4 million enrollees that HHS had projected by this point.”

National Journal: “With two months left to go, Obamacare enrollment is on track to hand the White House a significant win over the law's critics.”

David Nather: “The Obamacare rollout is changing in front of our eyes — turning from a running joke into one big shoulder shrug. And that’s good news for the White House, because at this point, even basic competence is good news.”

But how much did Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius not know about the website’s problems? The Hill finds through FOIA records that Obama and Sebelius met at least 18 times between Oct. 27, 2012 and Oct. 18, 2013. Plus, “She had breakfast or lunch with Pete Rouse, considered one of Obama’s closest advisers, at least three times. Moreover, Sebelius had scheduled calls or meetings with Valerie Jarrett, an Obama confidante, and White House chief of staff Denis McDonough. Sebelius also met with or had calls with Chris Jennings, then a White House senior healthcare adviser, at least seven times in the roughly yearlong period. The schedules suggest Sebelius was an active White House presence in the months leading up to the botched rollout, and raise new questions about why Obama wouldn’t have known about the problems that were exposed on Oct. 1.”

Francois Hollande may get a tough audience today in Silicon Valley. He’s lunching with Google’s Eric Schmidt and he had accused the company of not paying its fair share.

Americans do not like Russia or Putin. They get the highest unfavorable scores in two decades, per Gallup.

CONGRESS: Cruz-in for a bruisin’?

“Sen. Ted Cruz gambled and lost Wednesday in a bid to persuade his Republican colleagues to take another stand on the nation's rising debt, reopening old wounds that could make him a permanent pariah to party leaders,” National Journal writes, adding, “Afterward, the tempestuous Texan was not the least bit humbled or apologetic. In fact, asked whether McConnell should be replaced as party leader, Cruz didn't pause. ‘You know, that is ultimately a decision for the voters of Kentucky to make,’ he said.”

Speaking of Cruz, here’s the headline from the San Antonio Express-News: “House Republicans say Cruz scuttled immigration reform”

On the Democrats’ retreat, National Journal writes, “While Biden's lunch speech Thursday and Obama's breakfast address Friday are open to the media, there is a long list of other, more private strategy sessions, workshops, and events, according to a copy of the nonpublic agenda for the retreat put together by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra. The ‘break-out’ issues sessions and workshops beginning Thursday morning include ‘Developing a Winning Message,’ moderated by Rep. Frank Pallone; ‘The Minimum Wage: Why We Fight, How We Win,’ moderated Rep. Keith Ellison; and ‘Unmarried Women—They Will Elect You If You Get It Right,’ moderated by Rep. Rosa DeLauro.”

Here’s a picture of a South Carolina congressman helping plow snow with his tractor.

OFF TO THE RACES: 1,000 days to go until Election Day 2016

We’re now 1,000 days until the 2016 presidential election. And spending is on pace to eclipse midterm records. The Week: “Spending by outside groups in particular is on pace to reach an unprecedented level this cycle. To this point in 2010, outside groups had spent $10.4 million in what would become, by a wide margin, the most expensive midterms ever. To date, such groups have spent more than three times as much, $36.7 million, on the 2014 races.”

“Two years before any primary votes will be cast and long before any official campaign launches, Cruz, Paul, and others are already crisscrossing the country to win the hearts and wallets of the wealthiest Americans,” National Journal writes. “The race for a 2016 super-PAC sugar daddy is on.”

A lawyer claims to have written the lawsuit Rand Paul filed yesterday against the government for NSA spying (and not getting paid in full for it) and is accusing Ken Cuccinelli of stealing the case. Dana Milbank: “A Jan. 15 draft of the complaint written by Fein has long passages that are nearly identical to those in the complaint Cuccinelli filed Wednesday. Except for some cuts and minor wording changes, they are clearly the same documents.” More: “The unceremonious jettisoning of a constitutional lawyer in favor of the man best known for his unsuccessful suit to have Obamacare declared unconstitutional suggests that Paul’s legal action has more to do with politics than the law. And there are other clues. In Fein’s version, Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) was listed as a plaintiff along with Paul, but in the final complaint the Democrat was gone and the tea party group FreedomWorks was added in his place.”

The ex-wife of the lawyer got into a heated email exchange with Cuccinelli in which she called him “dumb as a box of rocks.”

CALIFORNIA: Here’s a first… A gay Republican candidate running for Congress is running an ad featuring shots of himself together with his partner.

FLORIDA: Alex Sink (D) leads the FL-13 special to take place next month. She’s up 42%-35% over Republican lobbyist David Jolly, according to a Braun Research poll for the Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9, and WUSF.

KENTUCKY: Mitch McConnell’s vote in favor of raising the debt ceiling put him in a tough spot with the tea party. NBC’s Kasie Hunt: “The Kentucky lawmaker's vote is sure to fuel criticism from critics to his right, who say Republicans didn't fight hard enough to attach spending reductions to the must-pass debt limit hike.”

AP: “The vote Wednesday was a fresh reminder that while Republicans see a legitimate chance of grabbing the majority in the Senate, fissures within the GOP often trip them up.”

Another poll has McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) in a dead heat. McConnell has a 43%-42% edge. The poll’s conducted by Wenzel Strategies which also does polling for Rand Paul.

NEW JERSEY: There are more subpoenas coming in the Christie bridge investigation, the Asbury Park Press reports.

Longtime political journalist Elizabeth Drew, drawing upon her past coverage of Watergate, writes that for Chris Christie, the question shouldn’t be what he knew about Bridge-gate scandal rocking his administration. The better question, she says, is whether the governor should be held accountable for the actions from his highest-ranking appointees. “There is much still to be discovered, and the full extent of his administration’s dealings on the bridge and the use of Sandy money and perhaps issues still unknown should be exposed. It would be an historic mistake, and one with national implications, if the issue of accountability were narrowed down to simply what Governor Christie knew and when.”

Sarah Palin may have thrown Christie under the bus, but Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) says he believes him and should stay chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

VIRGINIA: You get a Super PAC, and you get a Super Pac! “Republican Senate candidate Ed Gillespie, who helped co-found the American Crossroads super PAC with GOP strategist Karl Rove, won't be relying on Rove's group as his chief outside booster in his Virginia campaign. He's getting a super PAC of his own. Allies of Gillespie, the former Republican National Committee chairman, have created the We Can Do Better PAC, National Journal has learned.”